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Looking for how to clean an overwhelming messy house step by step?

Spoiler, there is no universal step by step process.

If you’re wondering how to start cleaning a messy house when you’re overwhelmed by the mess, you actually need to figure out how to motivate yourself to clean a messy house.

The issue isn’t that you don’t know how to clean, it’s that you’re stuck on where to start!

I’m here to help!


Name something in your house you hate cleaning… When wondering how to get motivated to clean and declutter, choose any area to clean other than the one you just thought of.


When it comes to cleaning motivation, take the path of least resistance!

I can totally relate to this feeling of “my house is so cluttered/messy I don’t know where to start”!

Sometimes I can’t get motivated to clean my house. It’s really embarrassing sometimes because it feels like it should be such a simple thing… Just do it! But if you’re here, you probably relate and won’t judge, right??

I’ve tried so many ways to try to motivate myself to clean. Everything I’ve listed below is tried and true.

Choose one or a few of the tips and try them out next time you’re overwhelmed by the mess and need some motivation to clean!

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overwhelmed by mess in house

Micro Cleaning vs Macro Cleaning: Which Will Motivate You to Clean?

When we think of cleaning it’s often the big results we envision. Your house is a total mess vs your house is completely spotless after spending an afternoon (or a whole day) cleaning and tidying.

I would describe that as macro cleaning, or large cleaning sessions.

While they can be quite effective, that huge action can feel really overwhelming and may be what is causing your to feel like screaming “my house is so messy I don’t know where to start!”

Micro cleaning is the opposite.

You clean in small amounts to avoid the overwhelm. Focus on a specific number of items, a specific area, or a specific category of items.

I think the best approach is a combination of micro and macro cleaning so I’m going to give suggestions for both types of cleaning.

I’ll start with my tips on micro cleaning because they’re much easier to help you learn how to motivate yourself to clean and declutter.

Micro Cleaning Methods Help Motivate You to Clean When You’re Overwhelmed by Mess

1-2-3-4-5 Method

I feel like half the cause of feeling overwhelmed by the mess is visual clutter. Our brain is overstimulated and kind of short circuits. It’s analysis paralysis on steroids.

One way to tame the overwhelm of a messy house is to avoid making conscious decisions at all.

That’s why I love the 1-2-3-4-5 method. It’s almost instinctual. It doesn’t matter what 5 things you choose to clean up.

There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to it, but yet every little bit of cleaning and tidying adds up so that the mess will eventually whittle down to something manageable, or you will feel a bit more motivated to continue cleaning after having a quick win.

Honestly this is the easiest method to use when you’re trying to figure out how to get motivated to clean when you’re overwhelmed by mess.

How to do it:

All you do it choose five items to put away. Count each item as you do it.

Dish towel is crumpled on the counter… hang it up. ONE.
Cupboard door is open… close it. TWO.
Crumbs on counter by the toaster… wipe them and throw away. THREE.
Mug has tea bag in it… Compost tea bag. FOUR.
Put mug in dishwasher. FIVE.

Don’t think or judge. No task or item is too small to count as one of the 5 things.

YAY! You did it!

OK so 5 things when your kitchen is totally out of control might not seem like a lot, but it’s about getting the ball rolling.

Now if you wish, choose 5 more things. This helps you focus on something super small so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. Over time, the mess will seem smaller.

You can choose the first 5 things you see, or you can theme it like put away 5 clean dishes, 5 things that don’t even belong in the kitchen, or 5 things from a specific counter top.

It doesn’t matter which you choose, only that you start.

One caveat; make sure the 5 things you choose are super small and can be done in an instant. If it takes longer than a few seconds, you might become overwhelmed again.

When all the clutter is gone, washing the dishes might seem manageable. When one surface is clear, you might feel motivated to clear another surface.

pick up the mess in the livingroom

Walk-by Method

This method helps avoid the overwhelm of cleaning because it actually hardly feels like cleaning at all. But add these little moments up over the course of the day and the mess will be noticeably less overwhelming.

How to do it:

As you’re normally walking around your home from one room to another, quickly assess if there is something in that room that belongs in the room you’re walking to, or somewhere on the way. If so, grab it as you walk by and put it away.

Is there a jacket hanging on the back of the chair? Grab it and put it in the hall closet as you walk by.

Kids toy on the floor? Toss it in the toy bin as you walk through the living room.

Apple core on the dining room table? Put it in the compost bin as you walk from the dining room to the kitchen.

This can be done no matter the size of the mess. It doesn’t feel too overwhelming because you’re only choosing one item and you’re already going to where it belongs anyway!

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Set a Timer

This is a great method to get motivated to clean. If you’re really overwhelmed by the mess, you’re only committing to cleaning for a few minutes and can take a break after the time is up. Or, if you feel up to a challenge, you could see how much you could clean in that set amount of time.

The time boundary takes away a lot of the overwhelm because you already have a set start and finish time.

How to do it:

Clean in the micro times when you naturally have a timer. For example, when the kettle is boiling, when the toast is down, when the microwave is on, or while your favorite song plays.

Those few minutes here and there can really add up! I bet you could wipe the counters or put away the clean dishes in the 2 minutes the kettle takes to boil. You could probably sweep the floor while the toast is down.

You can also try intentionally set a timer. Again, if you’re super overwhelmed by the clutter and mess, commit yourself to cleaning for that time and no pressure to do more.

This is similar to the Pomodoro Technique, which helps keep you motivated by setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing on work during that time. After the timer goes off, you can take a break. 25 minutes doesn’t seem so long or overwhelming so it gets rid of the barrier to starting!

Mindset Method

Mindset has been getting a lot of attention lately which I’m totally loving! Our mindset can shift a task or situation from overwhelming and frustrating to neutral and doable.

With a lot of practice you might even be able to enjoy tasks you once hated. For real! But more practically, the aim is to simply not hate the task.

The easiest way to implement the mindset method is to choose different words in your mental chatter (the words you think in your head).


Instead of thinking “ugh, I have to do the dishes AGAIN!?”, try catching that thought and rephrasing it to: “I get to do the dishes again.”

How does that phrase make you feel?

At first it might feel really wrong.

Why would I *want* to do the dishes? Doing the dishes isn’t fun or something to look forward to.

Let the words sink in a bit deeper…

“Getting” to do the dishes actually implies a lot of privileges. Dishes were dirtied because you cooked and ate food (you have food to eat and a place to cook it).

You have dishes to do (you OWN dishes and cupboards to store them in).

You “get” to do the dishes because you’re physically able to (sooo many people live with disabilities that prevent them from doing even basic activities of daily living for themselves).

Now that you’ve thought of it through that lens, how does it feel to say “I get to do the dishes”?

Even if you go less deep than that; instead of thinking “ugh, there are sooooo many dishes to do again! I just did them! It’s a never-ending pile of dishes!”, switch your thought to be more neutral and less negative.

For example:


“I notice there are dishes to do.”

Not every thought needs to be attached to an emotion. It’s called equanimity. Acceptance of what is, without reaction.

“Do It as It Comes” Method

Notice a slimy cucumber in the produce drawer? Toss it in the compost now. Then it’s off your mind and dealt with.

If you see it and leave it, the thought of it might stick around and bug you until it’s finally done. This is a huge part of the overwhelm we feel.

Even if you completely forget about the cucumber and it’s not weighing on your mind, when you rediscover it again the mess will be worse and could even cause more food to spoil.

Just deal with it right away and it will save you time, stress, mental energy and maybe even money!

Focus on the End Result

Instead of focusing on the mess, try to focus on the satisfaction of having a clean kitchen instead.

Focusing on what it feels like to have a clean and tidy room makes the discomfort/annoyance/overwhelm of cleaning more bearable.

This is another tactic to shift your mindset to focus on the positive instead of the negative.

You can even take before and after photos so you have a visual cue of what you accomplished! You can keep that photo of the clean kitchen for motivation for the next time you need to clean it. There will be a next time. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can clean it once and for all. Kitchens are meant to be used.

Macro Cleaning Methods Help Get Rid of the Mess

Macro cleaning methods take more time and commitment, but definitely show bigger results. If you have the energy, these bigger scale cleaning tips will help give you the motivation to clean by making cleaning more fun, or adding some external pressure!

Focus on Clearing One Area

For me, that mental relief of having the kitchen island clear allows me to feel an instant relief from the overwhelm of the mess. That’s usually where I focus my attention first.

How to do it:

  1. First, I get rid of any garbage or compostable waste.
  2. Next, I put away anything that belongs in another room or has a place.
  3. Next, I clear all the dishes and stack them by the sink to be washed later (if we had a dishwasher I would load it).
  4. Finally, I wipe the counter top.

You can apply similar method to any other area you’d like to focus on. I recommend choosing something relatively small, rather than “clean the dining room” which may be too much to focus on at once. Break it down into smaller tasks!

Purge Your Stuff

Turn your frustration of the overwhelming mess into motivation to purge, declutter, and get rid of stuff!

Get rid of anything you don’t need or want to clean up again and free yourself from the task of having to clean it ever again. The action it takes to clean it up is almost the same as just getting rid of it, except when you get rid of it the action is permanent, while when you just put it away, you will have to clean it up again and again.

Owning less stuff is the perfect solution to having to clean and tidy less often. Even when you do have to clean and put stuff away, the mess doesn’t get as overwhelming as it would when you have more stuff.

Pair a Fun Activity With Doing Chores

This tip is just how it sounds: you’re literally doing two things at once. It’s best to choose two things that don’t compete for your attention. Pairing listening or talking with mindless tasks are easy matches.

Here are some examples:

  • turn on a podcast when doing dishes
  • watch a video while folding laundry
  • FaceTime your family while tidying up
  • turn on music and dance while cleaning floors
washing dirty mugs in sink

Start From The Back First

A good example of “start from the back” is making sure to put away the clean dishes before you start washing the dirty ones. This way you have a place to put the dishes to dry after they’re washed.

If you didn’t first put away the clean dishes, the dishes would back up and add to your overwhelm.

It may sound simple and obvious, but I’ve done it many times so I think it’s important to mention.

This method works really well because you know everything will have a place to go when you’ve finished.

Ask for Help or Delegate

Ask for help from your partner and kids. Everyone who lives in the house needs to pitch in to clean up messes AND to help prevent messes in the future.

You can ask for help by delegating tasks to them, or by getting them to work alongside you to tackle a mess.

Another way to ask for help is to hire help. If you can fit it in your budget, it could be an AMAZING investment! Think of all the time it would save you, not to mention the stress and arguments prevented.

I know it’s not affordable for everyone. You could ask for cleaning services for your birthday or trade services with a friend. For example, you could cook a freezer meal for a friend, or watch her kids while she does some housework for you. Everyone has different chores they prefer to do so play that up!

get help to load the dishwasher

Make it Meditative

I have to be honest, I don’t find cleaning to be particularly meditative, but I do know some people who find it very calming.

Sometimes I try to channel that and switch my mindset about cleaning. I know having a clean and tidy house is very calming for me, and eliminating chaos is calming, so getting the motivation to clean can be harnessed from the desire for calm and order.

Being a yoga teacher, I also learned about moving meditations. Basically it’s those mindless tasks where your body moves almost out of habit and your mind is free. You’ve probably experienced it while walking.

Some cleaning tasks can be the same. Folding laundry, washing dishes, or sweeping the floor. The key is to focus on the task and allow any other thoughts to drift away. Make your movements slow and intentional rather than constantly hurrying through it. This article has a good explanation of how to do it.

I also recommend using unscented natural cleaners or if you like scents, something with essential oils in a scent you enjoy. The smells can be a form of aromatherapy!

And, when all else fails…

Invite Someone Over

If you’ve ever found out someone was coming over in an hour, you may have discovered the speed at which the entire house can be cleaned and tidied! Haha! There’s nothing like some strong external motivation and a time crunch to light the fire under your butt. It’s worth a try!

Choose micro cleaning techniques to help you get started on tackling the mess even if you feel overwhelmed. Once you’ve got some cleaning momentum, try a macro technique to get rid of the mess.

Combining several techniques will give you the motivational head start, plus the stamina to keep going until the job is done.

Whether you find micro or macro cleaning to be more motivating, I hope you found some tips that will help get you motivated to clean!

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